Artist Delorme turns prewar structure into eye candy
For Alliance Française in Cebu, it’s house that’s fittingly French
In its full Art Deco glory, La Maison Rose (The Pink House) is eye candy amid the chaotic urban center in Cebu City.
When the Alliance Française had this prewar house renovated, the management tapped Cebu-based French artist and decorator Delphine Delorme to give it a vibrant spirit. The interior decor mixes styles from the East and West, as well as from different periods.
It is also reflective of the artist’s personal vision.
“I’m a Frenchwoman in Asia. Decorating this place was like telling my story,” she says.
Delorme studied at Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris, major in theater and dance, but painting and decorating were her passions. As a thrifty student, she recalls the challenge of setting up Ikea furniture in her place.
This was until she discovered that for the same price, she could buy good furniture and even decorate them. If she didn’t like the shade of the furniture, she’d remove the coating and discover the allure of a distressed finish.
“I was not rich. I had to budget. I ended up having old chairs in different colors like blue, green and red, and mix them with two new matching ones,” she says. Thus, the mismatched furniture has become her distinct decorative style.
Delorme is also known for her indulgence in color and shabby chic style. She scrounges for vintage pieces and old posters in flea markets and second-hand shops. With her imagination, she gives these found objects a new purpose.
Seven years ago, Delorme arrived in Cebu with husband Henri, who directed several seasons of “Project Runway Philippines.” Finding the local furniture either too heavy or too staid for her taste, she started designing her own collection with help of local artisans.
Delorme’s reputation as artist and furniture designer spread. In many chic homes in Cebu, one would find either a Louis XV-inspired furniture in ebullient patterns and colors by Delorme or her paintings inspired by Pop Art.
The Alliance Française Cebu (interchangeably called La Maison Rose) houses a restaurant and the cultural center. When Delorme was working on the restaurant, she removed the ground floor ceiling since the wood had been eaten by termites.
The exposed wooden floor joists made the director think that the French cultural center might end up looking like a Swiss chalet. Delorme insisted that the unclad beams were part of creating a well-worn, period look.
Then there’s her rich interplay of objects that grab attention. A red lion-shaped knocker on the salmon pink door and a period photo of a Shanghainese stripper, reminiscent of Josephine Baker, greets the visitor.
“When you come here, you’ve got to feel as if you’re stepping into a different world,” she says.
The decor scheme celebrates color and breaks rules of design. Cool turquoise walls are partnered with a bold red door and accessories in bright complementary colors. In the private dining room, light pink walls with painted flowers evoke freshness, while the rose-colored dado lends a cocooning effect.
The reception is light and bright with light green paint and Oriental blossoms. The desk is done in raw mahogany finish.
“I don’t like it shiny,” says Delorme.
Delorme also removed the rotting ceiling in the powder room, which exposed the ugly industrial pipes. Her design solution: Cover the hideous pipes in gold leaf. The counter and Louis XV furniture with gold leaf accents is a foil to all that. With a pink background and metallic motif, the powder room becomes sophisticated without losing the quirkiness.
For the accessories, Delorme took off from the period look of the house. In the early 20th century, the French had a dominant influence in Shanghai and Indochine. She then traveled to source prewar posters of Chinese girls from old shops in Shanghai and red bird cages, fabric lamps and embroidered tablecloths from Hanoi. Umbrellas from Myanmar diffuse the light in the restaurant.
Delorme also asked Michel Lhuillier, honorary consul of France in the Visayas and restaurateur, for cast-off furniture and chandeliers from his various dining outlets. She then repainted the chandeliers, and added feathers and gewgaws. The heavy furniture was lightened up with feminine colors.
At the bar, the high chairs were flea market finds. They were furnished with rose-embossed red cushions from China and tribal stripes from Vietnam. For a local token, the table is made from capiz windows with backlighting and glass tops.
There are references to France, naturally. The image of the Eiffel Tower is transferred on the lampshade. Delorme’s backlit portrait of sex symbol Brigitte Bardot dominates the pink private dining room.
Delorme will always leaves her idiosyncratic touches. A fuchsia alcove, adorned with faucets, punctuates the turquoise stairwell. “If you need inspiration, just open the faucet,” she says. So much for conceptual art.
At the lounge, Delorme’s painting of a girl with piled-up shampoo suds breaks up the uniformity of the early 20th-century Shanghai girl posters.
“It creates an impact and a surprise. Everything is Chinese, why is she here? This is what I like,” she maintains.
In contrast to the color cacophony in the restaurant, the palette is tamer at Alliance Française. The classrooms are painted in refreshing pastels, free from distracting colors and patterns. The director’s office is in anthracite and black, which, Delorme says, looks like a set from a film noir.
Asked what is French about the new Alliance Française, Delorme cites that moldings make a difference. They create interesting details instead of just a boring flat wooden surface. She adds that the curtains are understated—a valance and shirred drapes, unlike the Americans who employ swags and jabots.
“The French way is simple. You can see the wood. It’s not like American style which masks the surface. You don’t see the wood anymore. Americans don’t like cracks. In Europe, cracks are normal. It means it’s alive.”
She then looks at her painted mahogany Louis XV drawer on the staircase landing, which is beginning to crack.
“We don’t care about imperfections. They give value to the furniture.”
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